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Former 'MasterChef' contestant's cookbook pulled after plagiarism allegations

Elizabeth Haigh is facing accusations that she plagiarized portions of her debut cookbook.
The validity of Elizabeth Haigh's debut cookbook is being called into question after several other cooks accused her of passing their recipes off as her own.
The validity of Elizabeth Haigh's debut cookbook is being called into question after several other cooks accused her of passing their recipes off as her own.Chef Elizabeth Haigh/ Youtube
/ Source: TODAY

Cookbook publisher Bloomsbury Absolute has stopped selling former "MasterChef" contestant Elizabeth Haigh's debut cookbook following allegations that she plagiarized content from another cook.

The cookbook, titled "Makan," was Haigh's first foray into the publishing world and was initially released in July. The Singaporean-British chef is known for competing in BBC's "MasterChef" in 2011 and owning a London restaurant called Mei Mei.

As reported by Eater London, Sharon Wee, who published her cookbook "Growing Up in a Nonya Kitchen" in 2012, accused Haigh of plagiarizing several of her recipes and personal anecdotes last week in a statement on Instagram. In the post, the author explained she wrote the book "in loving memory" of her mother and shared many of her personal recipes. She also interviewed older relatives and shared her family history in the book.

Haigh's debut book was released over the summer.
Haigh's debut book was released over the summer.Amazon

"I was therefore distressed to discover that certain recipes and other content from my book had been copied or paraphrased without my consent in Makan by Elizabeth Haigh, and I immediately brought this matter to the attention of the book’s publisher, Bloomsbury Absolute. I am grateful that Bloomsbury has responded to my concerns by withdrawing Makan from circulation," she wrote.

When reached by TODAY Food, Wee declined to comment, citing "legal reasons" and directed us to her Instagram statement. According to Eater, her cookbook will be republished this November. Haigh and Bloomsbury Absolute did not immediately respond for comment.

Wee isn't the only one to accuse Haigh of using her content in "Makan." Many book stores around the world soon began to catch wind of the situation and shared their support for the author on social media.

Los Angeles book store Now Serving encouraged its customers to request store credit for "Makan" if they'd like to return the book.

New Zealand cookbook store Cook the Books shared the following sentiment on their Instagram page: "To pass someone else’s recipes off as your own is one thing. To appropriate their personal memoir is unforgivable."

The store also shared the post on Facebook and Bee Yinn Low, a recipe writer who runs the Rasa Malaysia blog, left the following comment:

"I have a Ngoh Hiang recipe on my site, the recipe was contributed by a Singaporean food blogger back in 2007/2008. Last week, I received a comment from someone who accused me of copying Elizabeth Haigh's cookbook word-by-word without credit. I was puzzled as I didn't know who she is last week (I had only known her as auntie Liz in Uncle Roger's videos)," she wrote.

"If she did plagiarize the recipe from my blog, it means the plagiarism is more extensive than just from the Nyonya cookbook. Perhaps she also plagiarized from food blogs," she continued.

Daryl Lim, a poet and critic from Singapore, also joined the conversation, posting several side-by-side comparisons of the two authors' work on his Instagram page. In one post, he compared the following excerpts from the two books:

  • From Wee's book: "Traditionally, the Nonyas engaged all their senses when they cooked — it was important to gauge the color of the gravy, smell the aroma of the spices, feel the warmth of the charcoal heat, listen to the rhythm of the pounding, and most importantly taste the final product when the cooking is finished. As such, recipes passed down the generations were inexact. Cooking was by estimation or what the Nonyas called agak-agak."
  • From Haigh's book: "By tradition, Nonya Aunties engaged all their senses when they cooked. It was really important to gauge the smells and colour of the gravy; feel the warmth of the charcoal or wok heat; listen to the sizzle of the rempah; and — the best bit — taste constantly. The Aunties cooked by agak agak, or 'guesstimation.'"

In a follow-up post, Lim shared several additional comparisons between the two books and thanked his followers for submitting examples of their own.

Eater also spoke with two other sources that said they contacted Bloomsbury in July to compare a "Makan" passage to an excerpt from the 2018 cookbook titled "You and I Eat the Same" but did not receive a response from the publisher.

As of publishing time, Haigh had not addressed the allegations of plagiarism publicly, but all the posts promoting the book across her social media channels have been taken down.